Perhaps you are planning a trip or business encounter in China or with a Chinese speaking client and you want to learn Chinese now. You might wonder how long it might take you to learn enough to hold your own in a conversation. There have been those that say you can learn Chinese in mere months. Maybe you are one of those who want to know how to learn Chinese in one month, or if that is even possible. Although complete fluency in a couple months is probably asking too much, there are ways to learn a great deal in a very short period of time.
First and foremost, you have to stay positive and believe you can accomplish your goal. Couple that with a willingness to work hard, you have a great opportunity to learn quickly. You might even be able to speak Mandarin Chinese fairly well in as quick as three months. As long as your expectations are reasonable and your not expecting to be able to write the next great novel in Chinese, you’re all set.
So let’s say you aim toward learning as much as you can in three months; where exactly do you start? Well, first you start with immersion. This means getting as fully engaged in learning Chinese as often and as completely as you can. There is no substitute for immersion. Literally any free moment you have needs to be singularly dedicated to learning.
It’s logical that if you had zero else on your calendar and could spend every waking moment learning, you would learn fast. If that is not possible, try to schedule your learning around when you might have time off. This could be between semesters, during a vacation,or perhaps when you are home for a sabbatical or other significant time off periods. However, if that is not reasonable, you still need to find significant chunks of time to dedicate to learning the language. Even when you are doing chores or running around town, find ways to incorporate learning into that activity such as ebooks or music, whatever will more fully immerse you in the culture and Chinese language.
One of the more difficult parts of the language is committing the Chinese characters to memory. Don’t try to take on all the characters at once; come up with a system. One of the best ways to do this is to learn the 214 Kangxi radicals first. If you learn these, you will be one step closer to learning many of the other Chinese characters. Then, in conjunction to learning these 214 radicals, also commit to learning the most common 1000 Chinese characters in small chunks. Give yourself a number you will devote to learning each day to get to the 1000 in a reasonable amount of time. Between these two commitments, you will have a very solid baseline to learning the Chinese language.
Next, start to read Chinese. Now this doesn’t mean picking up a book written in Chinese and expecting to be successful. After all, the difficulty of learning any new language is one of the reasons why it takes a while to study. It’s difficult to learn anything without practice, and if you want to figure out how to learn Chinese in one month or longer, practicing is an important step. There are books out there that will guide you based on your current proficiency level which will move you forward in skill set as you read more and more. Increasing the aptitude level and difficulty, week over week, using these graded readers is a great way to gain confidence and proficiency. When you feel relatively comfortable reading, try to read a book you know well in the Chinese translation. Since you know what it is about and what will come next, you have a better shot of getting through and reading it successfully.
Of course, if you are totally committed and really need to make progress, you can always find a tutor. There are tutors out there for every skill level, difficulty, or specialty you might need from your tutor. With a tutor, you will quickly be corrected, assessed and encouraged with real, first hand feedback every step of the way. Tutors can be in person, meeting at a location or one of your two homes, or, with technology today, on-line through any number of websites or technologies. The time with your tutor should be spent with speaking skills such as annunciation, pronunciation, grammar and syntax.
In addition, you need to start writing. The good thing about writing is that you practice two skills, writing longhand and comprehension. The reality is, over time you probably won’t have the need to write Chinese long hand, but it is one of those steps that you should take to fully immerse yourself in learning. Writing is another foundational skill that will benefit you over time. When you write, you also learn grammar since it is usually easy to identify grammatical errors when written down. If you have a tutor, you will want them to check your work to assure you are using your words correctly.
When you need a break from the intense active learning piece of your immersion, take the time to practice some passive studying. Passive learning includes things such as listening to music, talk shows, or podcasts all in Chinese. These will give you exposure to the language and words. In addition, you can always watch movies or videos that are in Chinese. Doing this is very beneficial since watching the movie makes it a little easier to then understand what is being said. Lastly, if there are groups, clubs, or other social settings where Chinese is spoken, try to align yourself with them and don’t be afraid to try to converse as much as you can.
Other ways to enhance your studying is to look for Chinese social media on line. Twitter might be a good place to start since there are abundant feeds to choose from that are in Chinese. Eventually, when you are a bit more proficient, you can increase your reading activities in Chinese.
There are many ways to learn Chinese in a very short period of time. In the end, what you put into it will be the direct driver to what you come out of it with in terms of your proficiency and ability.
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